Michael Cavacini

An award-winning arts and culture blog.

Archive for the tag “Author”

Interview: James Patterson MasterClass Winner Kecia Bal

Kecia Bal won the first James Patterson MasterClass Co-Author Competition. Her proposed topic and outline for a book she hoped to write with the world’s best-selling author was chosen by the man himself. In June 2016 she received a fateful call from James Patterson telling her that out of the thousands of submissions, hers was the best and she’d have the opportunity to bring that idea to life working side-by-side with the foremost writer in the thriller genre. Together they wrote and published The Dolls, an imaginative and compelling entry in James Patterson’s BookShots series of bite-sized thrillers that clock in around 150 pages. Below is my interview with Bal, who was kind enough to share her thoughts on this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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Author Interview: Jason Pinter

Jason Pinter is one of my favorite authors. He’s an excellent writer who has written numerous internationally best-selling books. And, he’s also the founder and publisher of Polis Books, an independent publishing company he launched in 2013 following positions in editorial and marketing at Warner Books, Random House, St. Martin’s Press and Grove/Atlantic and the Mysterious Press.

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A Conversation with John Lescroart

John LescroartJohn Lescroart is an exceptional author who I had the good fortune of meeting at ThrillerFest last July. He is a New York Times best-seller with more than 25 books to his name, and his latest novel, The Fall, which came out in May, has been receiving phenomenal reviews.

Below is an interview John was kind enough to do with me. I hope you enjoy it.

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Book Review: The Stranger by Harlan Coben

IMG_0241I recently finished reading The Stranger by Harlan Coben, and I really enjoyed it. As always, Harlan pens a tightly-woven, unpredictable thriller better than anyone. But that also means the reader goes into his books with very high expectations. I found this standalone novel to be superior to his previous one, Missing You, and I highly recommend it. And don’t forget to check out my interview with Harlan, where he talks about his inspiration for this book.

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A Conversation With Harlan Coben

I’ve interviewed many authors over the past few years, but it wasn’t until recently that I got to interview my all-time favorite: Harlan Coben. With over 60 million books in print and his last seven consecutive novels debuting at #1 on The New York Times bestseller list, you could say Harlan is a favorite among many readers, and with good reason. His thrillers are unpredictable and compelling, and they feature fully-realized characters that stay with you after the final page has been turned.

Harlan’s newest novel, The Stranger, is being released in the U.S. on March 24. Stay tuned for my review of the book, which I’m sure is fantastic. Until then, check out my interview with Harlan below, where we discuss everything from Governor Chris Christie to driving in the fog with your headlights on. Enjoy!

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Book Review: Keep Quiet by Lisa Scottoline

Keep Quiet

Yesterday I finished Keep Quiet, the latest novel by one of my favorite authors, Lisa Scottoline. This book is about Jake, a father who’s looking to get closer to his son. Despite his good intentions, he makes a decision that could tear his family apart.

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Author Interview: Ken Sharp

Ken Sharp

Gene Simmons, Ken Sharp and Paul Stanley.

I met Ken Sharp, the New York Times best-selling music biographer, on KISS Kruise III and I recently finished his latest book: Nothing’ to Lose: The Making of KISS (1972-1975). It was fantastic and easily the most in-depth biography I’ve ever read. If you’re a KISS fan, a lover of pop culture or just someone who’s interested in fascinating origin stories, I highly recommend you read the book.

Below is my interview with Ken. We discuss Nothin’ to Lose, his love for KISS and we even talk about how John Waite brought us together, among other interesting topics. It’s a great interview and I hope you enjoy it.

How did you get into KISS? What’s your first memory of becoming a fan?

There was a neighbor down the street and he played guitar. I remember being at his house one day and he put on this record, which was KISS Alive! I believe it had just come out and he was showing me the cover and playing it. And I was blown away by the aggression and the melodic hooks and the fact that he was playing his electric guitar along with it. I think it was the whole package that inspired me, not only to become a KISS fan but also to start playing guitar. So, it was definitely a good introduction to the band and to the world of playing guitar. 

When did you first meet KISS?

The first time I met them was in December of ’76. I was backstage at a show on the Rock and Roll Over tour at the Spectrum in Philadelphia – I have a poster that was signed by them, it was amazing.

My mom was the first woman professional boxing judge in the world so she had contacts at the Spectrum and I begged her to call someone there to see if she knew someone that could introduce me to the band. She was able to coerce someone that she knew. She put me on the subway. I went to the show myself and I met someone around four in the afternoon and they brought me backstage, and I basically just waited in the backstage area till the band came. Not only did I meet them, I got to watch them do the soundcheck without makeup – this is all completely true. And I got them to sign autographs. I didn’t get pictures and I kind of regret that, but obviously they were without makeup so that wasn’t gonna’ happen. 

I met Bill Aucoin that night, and I befriended Carol Kaye who was a publicist for KISS in the ’70s. She worked at a place called Press Office in New York, and she invited me up one day to visit her and the day I went to see her Paul came into the office. So I met with Paul and got autographs, and another time when I came back in the ’70s I met Gene. I got to hang out with him, so that was a pretty amazing experience. I was young and impressionable so it really blew my mind. I first interviewed them, probably, in the early ’80s. But in terms of meeting them, I met them in ’76. 

I was mainly interviewing a lot of people that worked with them. Gene found out about that and he and Paul made themselves available. It was something that came together because of that – because of my idea of, hey, let me start interviewing as many people that worked with them. Whether it was Vinnie Poncia, who produced Dynasty and Unmasked or people that worked on the road crew and things like that, and it started there. 

In addition to writing about KISS, you have books about John Lennon and Elvis. How did you get involved in the music business and in writing?

It’s interesting. I went to Temple University and got a degree in Communications and I got a chance to work as an intern at a local Philly radio station called WYSP. And from there I befriended people at the station and the music director, Mark DiDia. He was a really good guy, and later turned out to be a really powerful guy in the business who worked with Capital Records and Geffen in real high-up positions and now he’s working in management. 

I was part of the hard rock show called the Metal Shop and I played a character on there called “Killer Ken” (laughs). And I wasn’t much of a killer but we had to take on these roles and I was about to do some interviews for that show and Mark DiDia really didn’t like doing interviews. He knew I was passionate about music so he had me interview people like Glen Tilbrook or Ozzy Osbourne or Bob Geldof, when Live Aid happened. I interviewed Yoko Ono over the phone. So, that basically started it up. 

I also started contributing articles to the music magazine Goldmine, and from there it kind of took off and has since resulted in me working on a lot of book projects. Obviously, my latest book being Nothin’ to Lose, but beyond KISS I’ve done books on everyone from John Lennon to Elvis to Cheap Trick to the Raspberries, people like that. That’s kind of how that fired my interest. 

KISS - Nothin' to LoseSpeaking of Nothin’ to Lose, how did it come to be?

Well, I’ve always been really fascinated with the beginning of things with artists. I’m a huge Beatles and Elvis fan – they’re actually my favorite artists – and I’ve always been really fascinated with Elvis’ early days. He was signed to a local label called Sun Records and played all the juke joints down south, and I was always really fascinated with those formative years. And the same thing with the Beatles – when they played Hamburg or were starting out in Liverpool, and I thought the same thing about KISS. I thought, wow, there’s never really been a book that’s really gone into great depth about that and let me see if I can do it. I started putting together some new interviews and things like that, and tracking down some people. I put 25,000 words together and I sent it to Gene with my proposal. He thought it was a good idea and it took off from there. 

How was it working with Gene and Paul for this book? Did they give you complete creative control or did you have to get their approval on the final manuscript since they were listed as co-authors?

Yeah, they were absolute princes about everything. Initially I was made a little worried that perhaps there’d be a lot of censorship but there was absolutely nothing like that. They wanted the story to be told, and they wanted it to be told not just with their voices but with the voices of the rest of the band, as well as all the different people that worked with them, whether it was producers, record company executives, publicists, concert promoters, costume designers, journalists, or engineers. It’s a wide swath of people that are telling their story and I think that’s what makes it unique and different. A lot of people know the story and I can’t reinvent what happened to them but what I can do is re-contextualize it and present it in a manner that creates a much larger tapestry so people can get a greater understanding of what happened. And there are even things that happened to the band in their career that they weren’t privy to. They weren’t there for every event that happened and there were things that happened, business-wise or with concert promoters, that they weren’t privy to, and them reading about it in the book was an eye opener. 

They were absolutely complete gentlemen and certainty made themselves available all the time for interviews and things like that, and they really let me take the lead to shape what I was able to accomplish.  

This is the most detailed KISS book I’ve ever read, and perhaps the most detailed music book I’ve ever read.

Yeah, some reviews said, “I’m surprised he didn’t interview the custodian at Electric Lady” (laughs). The reason why is because I couldn’t track him down. I’m just joking. I certaintly could have stopped a lot earlier (laughs). I interviewed over 200 people for the book. I could have stopped after 75 people, but it’s kind of like when you’re working on a song, you kind of know when you’re done. It was at that point that I felt like I’d exhausted people from that era. But there’s always going to be people that pop out of the woodwork after a project is done. There have been a few people that popped up since I worked on the project but overall I think I did a pretty admirable job of digging up plenty of people from that time period to present the most complete portrait of the band. It was satisfying to track down all of these people. I almost had to be a detective in a way. 

KISS 1976 1From start to finish, how long did it take to complete Nothin’ to Lose?

Probably about four years, I would say. Yeah, it was a lot of work, and people have asked me in interviews or otherwise, “So, you’re obviously starting on the follow-up?” That’s actually not true. I thought about it, but to throw myself back into that and shut out the world for a few years at a time to do that, I’m not sure I’m ready to do that. But I’m working on other projects that are not KISS-related. But it was a really time-consuming and exhausting project, and I feel really satisfied with the results. 

Nothin’ to Lose is filled with comments from nearly every person that came into contact with the KISS during this era. Some of this content is pulled from previous interviews and articles but a good portion of it was gathered first-hand by you. How did you go about speaking with so many musicians, producers, and everyone in between, about KISS?

Having been a part of the music business since the early ’80s and dealing with publicists, I did what I had to do to track down people, and one person would lead to another. It certainly wasn’t a case of someone presenting me with a list of 200 people to talk to. It was a really a case of being a detective and tracking down people, especially people outside of the norm. It really required a lot of legwork and a lot of hours of endless digging through a variety of sources to track people down and gain a lot of confidences. There were people that may have been not initially wanting to talk or not interested, and I had to persuade them that this wasn’t a hatchet job the band was doing – it was really me trying to capture the essence of what the band was doing at that time as best as I could. 

I would say 90% of the interviews in the book were done first-hand by me, and I pride myself on that. But there are a few instances where I had to tap into interviews from the past. 

KISS - Alive!Speaking of interviews, Ace and Peter’s thoughts are featured throughout the book. Are all of these comments from previous interviews or did you speak with them for this book?

I went to both of them requesting interviews and they were both working on their own book projects, so it’s understandable why they couldn’t participate. But I wanted to give them as much of a voice as I could. I interviewed them before – quite a few times – and they’re a part of it. Their input is not as great as Paul and Gene’s but they’re certainly not ignored. What’s interesting to me is before the book came out people saw that Gene and Paul’s names were on it and they thought it was going to be a complete bashfest of Ace and Peter. But that was completely not the case. 

This was a much more positive story because this was a period of time when everyone was getting along and they were aligned with the same ambition. If I jump into doing a part two, the next period, where the band broke through – from ’76 to ’79 – that was a pretty difficult period for the guys in the band. While they achieved huge heights of success, the excess and divisions started to form. The problems with Ace and Peter, with drinking and drugs, came to the fore. So, while a book about that era would be interesting, it would be a bit more depressing than the era that I covered. 

How did it feel to become a New York Times best-selling author with Nothin’ to Lose?

That was an amazing feeling. It’s kind of a like a one-hit wonder breaking into the top 10. People can forget about them but they can always say they made the top 10. If it’s only one time for me, I’m fine with that. It was quite a surprise and certainly one that I celebrated. I’ve done over 15 books and I’ve never had one make the New York Times bestseller list, let alone in the top 10. So to break in at number nine was really, really satisfying. I certainly have to give Paul and Gene the major props for that because with them being kind enough to go out and do some book signings, I’m sure that certainly helped us. It was quite a surprise and definitely something that put a smile on my face. 

Kiss Rock GroupKnowing how long Nothin’ to Lose took to complete, if Gene and Paul came to you asking for a second book would you be open to it?

Yeah, possibly. But it was so much work, and I’m the world’s worst typist. I type with two fingers. So, you can imagine, to transcribe interviews – that in itself is torture. An interview that is an hour could take me five or six hours to transcribe (laughs). And by the time I’m done, my fingers are numb. Just that amount of work was difficult. If I could have someone transcribe my interviews then I could begin work on the narrative, and that would certainly make things easier. But still, it would require such a huge amount of work. I’m shocked I was able to pull this book off because I was still working a full-time job at that time.

I really did work hard to track down as many photos as I could that were previously unseen or rare. I really wanted to make every image count as best as I could in the book, and that was also a difficult proposition working with ’73 to ’75 because it’s an era that’s less documented than ’76 onward, obviously, as the band became more popular. So that was a great challenge, but I’m real pleased with the images in the book and there’s an additional 22 images in the e-book version. 

You also wrote KISS: Behind the Mask and KISS Army Worldwide: The Ultimate Fanzine Phenomenon with Gene and Paul. Do you have a favorite among the three?

Not because it’s the newest book, but I think I would say Nothin’ to Lose because I think it hangs together really well. I love that period of time of KISS’ career. It was for me, from a selfish point of view, a way to live vicariously through those times by doing this book. In a way, the book was for me as much as it was for other KISS fans. I would definitely say that Nothin’ to Lose, by far, is my favorite book out of all the KISS projects. 

John Waite - Live All AccessWhen you and I met on KISS Kruise III, you were wearing a Babys t-shirt and we chatted briefly about John Waite, a fantastic musician and vocalist. 

(laughs) Yeah, I love that Babys shirt and I even wore it during my meet and greet photo with KISS (laughs). I’m a big fan of the Babys and John Waite, who I recently interviewed for a Goldmine cover story. 

Speaking of John Waite, I saw a couple videos online of you jamming with his band on guitar last fall. How did that come about what was it like being on stage?

Talk about an amazing moment. I got to play three songs with him at a private show in the valley in California. And I got to play two Babys songs with him – “Midnight Rendezvous” and “Head First.”  Then we ended with a cover of “Money,” which was a song the Beatles used to do and, actually, the Babys covered it. I came up with the idea of doing that. When we were doing the soundcheck I started playing that riff and John just started singing along and we ran through it, and I didn’t think anything else of it. Then, later that day, I saw the set list and saw that they added “Money” as the encore. 

My god, I saw the Babys only once in 1980 and it was, probably, one of my top three concerts of all time – them at the Tower Theater in Philly for the Union Jacks tour. It was such a spectacular show. And for me to be able to be on the same stage, even for just a small period of time, playing guitar on classic Babys songs with John Waite – one of my musical heroes – was certainly a mind-blower (laughs). I’m not sure I’m worthy of it, but it was great. 

What’s your connection with John and how did you two meet?

The first time I met him was in 1982 for his first solo album Ignition, and I met him at the location where I’d later work as an intern: WYSP. It’s really interesting how that all ties together. I found out that he was doing an interview that day and he was opening a show at the Tower – that was his first solo tour – for 38 Special. I had front-row tickets and went with a friend, and we waited in the lobby of the radio station. Eventually the elevator opened and there was John Waite with a guy from Chrysalis Records and he couldn’t be nicer. We took a bunch of photos with him, and that was the first time I met him. The first time I interviewed him was probably two years later.  

Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like fans to be aware of?

I’m finishing up a book on 60 session players in LA known as The Wrecking Crew. They played on all the popular records from the ’60s, everything from “Good Vibrations” to “Be My Baby” to “I Think I Love You.” It’s an oral history about that whole music explosion in LA and Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys did the forward, and Glen Campbell, who’s part of The Wrecking Crew, did the afterward. It’s a really cool book with a ton of color photos throughout. It’s probably the most visually appealing project I’ve done. I’m working on that and I have a few other ideas in mind. 

Author Interview: Stuart Woods

Stuart Woods Photo Credit Harry BensonStuart Woods is one of the first thriller writers whose work I fell in love with. His characters have fantastic names like Felicity Devonshire, Vance Calder and, my all-time favorite, Stone Barrington. I’m constantly impressed by the fluidity of his prose, as well as his wonderfully descriptive romantic scenes. There have been countless occasions when I stopped reading one of his books to recite a passage to a friend because I was so impressed by the use of adjectives, verbs and metaphors. Simply stated, he’s a terrific writer everyone should read. Speaking of which, Stuart Woods has a new Stone Barrington novel available: Standup Guy. Make sure to pick up a copy after reading my interview with the author below.

After graduating college, you started out working at several advertising agencies. What made you realize advertising wasn’t for you, and how did your time in the industry influence your future writing?

I found the advertising business to be a wonderful preparation for writing professionally. I always advise young people who want to write for a living to find a job in advertising, journalism, PR – any profession that requires you to sit down and write a thousand words a day, whether you feel like it or not. Advertising did that for me, and in addition, I had to satisfy some very demanding bosses – some of the best writers in the business – who wanted persuasive writing and every word to count. I left because I felt I had gone as far as I was going to go in that business, and because I had wanted to write fiction since I was a child, and leaving advertising forced me to finally write the novel I had been thinking about since I was ten.

Chiefs - Stuart Woods

Your first novel, Chiefs, earned you an Edgar Award. How did it feel to be honored by your peers for your first novel?

I didn’t know the Mystery Writers of America were my peers, since I had never heard of the award, though I was very happy to receive it. I thought I had written a novel about how small towns worked, but I was delighted that they found it to be mysterious.

Chiefs was turned into a TV miniseries with a stellar cast of actors, including Charlton Heston, Danny Glover, Billy Dee Williams, and John Goodman. Did you have an active role in the creation of the miniseries, and did it live up to your expectations?

I didn’t write the screenplay, but the producers were kind enough (and smart enough) to send me every draft of the screenplay and solicit my comments and suggestions. I made a lot of those, and they even accepted some of them, particularly in casting. Heston’s character, Hugh Holmes was based on James S. Peters, a father of my home town, and I interviewed him at length about the town’s history. I loaned the tapes of that interview to Heston, and he used them to create his character and his accent. I was delighted with the miniseries; I thought it true to both the plot of the novel and its intent. I played a small part in the mini-series, and they made me travel to New York to read for it. I had a two-minute scene with Billy Dee Williams, a fine actor who, for some reason, could not remember his lines. We rehearsed at length, shot it, then rehearsed some more and shot it a couple of more times. He finally got his lines right, whereas I was perfect throughout. I thought, “This acting thing isn’t so tough; after all I knew my lines.” Then I saw the series at a screening: Billy Dee was wonderful, and I came off as a blithering idiot. I thought, “Maybe there’s something to this acting thing, after all.”

Under The Lake - Stuart WoodsI thought your standalone thriller, Under the Lake, was one of your best. It’s very different from your other work but just as captivating. It even attracted the attention of Stephen King, who lauded the book by saying, “it scared the living hell” out of him. More than 25 years later, what’s your opinion on the novel?

I reread it when someone was writing a screenplay (ultimately unproduced) from it, and I liked it a lot. I tried to get Simon & Schuster to use King’s comment, which was one line in a fulsome letter he wrote about the book, and they wouldn’t. They wanted to say, “It scared the living heck out of me.” (!)

For the past several years you’ve been providing fans with a steady flow of Stone Barrington novels. Do you plan on revisiting any of your other series or writing any new standalone thrillers?

My publisher persuaded me to write only Stone novels in a new contract (he offered me money, and I can be bought). I think he meant that he wanted the words, “A Stone Barrington Novel” on every cover. I tricked him by including all the other series characters in the various novels. Anyway, my readers who write to me like Stone best.

Having written 28 Stone Barrington novels, how do you keep your books fresh?

I have a fevered imagination and a rich fantasy life, which helps with the sex scenes.

Blue Water, Green Skipper - Stuart Woods

Your memoir about sailing, Blue Water, Green Skipper, was re-released in 2012. How did the fans of your thrillers respond to Blue Water, Green Skipper when it was, once again, made available to the public?

I’ve had a great deal of mail about the book from readers – most of them, yachtsmen, and they were all warm in their praise. Reading it allowed me to revisit a happy time in my life. One day, I’ll write a full-blown autobiography, and I’ve reserved the right to plug the old book into the new one. I don’t think I can write about that time of my life any better.

Many popular writers, including James Patterson, have increased their productivity by collaborating with other authors on novels. Some readers don’t care for this practice because they feel having a co-author dilutes the end product, while others are perfectly fine with it. What’s your opinion on the matter, and would you ever collaborate with another author on a book?

I’ve never done that, though my publisher says he would like it. I’ve instructed my widow-to-be to call my agent as soon as I’m dead and hire a few writers, and I’ve explained to her that Jim Patterson makes more money than God.

Standup Guy jacket

Since you’re working on and releasing multiple books a year, how do you go about keeping track of all the characters and details from novel to novel?

My characters exist for me in an alternate universe; I know exactly what’s happened to them, though they know nothing about me. Apparently, they don’t read. I seem to have a gift for keeping their stories in memory.

What are you working on now and what’s next for Stone Barrington?
There are two Stone novels completed and awaiting publication, and I’ll finish another this week. Standup Guy is coming out on January 7th. 

Author Interview: Steven James

Steven James

I met Steven James at ThrillerFest VIII. In addition to seeing him moderate several panels, I attended his workshop on organic writing and was very impressed. Following the conference, I read Placebo, his first book in the Jevin Banks series, and I’m currently reading his newest novel, Singularity, the follow-up to the aforementioned title. Below is my interview with Steven James; I hope you enjoy it. And don’t forget to pick up a copy of Singularity – it’s a great read.

Your newest novel, Singularity, is receiving even better reviews than the first book in the Jevin Banks series, Placebo. For those that have yet to read it, what’s the premise of Singularity and what inspired it?

Jevin Banks, one of the world’s greatest illusionists and escape artists, ends up stumbling onto a sweeping conspiracy while looking into the suspicious death of one of his friends. As far as what inspired the story, I’d say a growing interest that I have in emerging technology and the uncharted waters it’s taking us into.

Do you write a specific amount of words every day, and how do you keep stay motivated to stick to your timeline?

That’s a good question. I find that when I go by word count I get easily discouraged since I might fly and write several thousand words one day and then the next day delete everything I worked so hard on. Typically, I go by time. I set a certain number of actual manuscript hours that I would like to work in a given day and then as I write I keep a timer and take scheduled breaks, but keep track of the time down to the second (I know, it’s a bit fanatical, but it keeps me on track).

Some writers have said they barely edit their work while others put their drafts through several revisions. How do you handle the editing process?

There are very few people who can pull off writing great stories with very little editing and revising. I’ve read some of the work of people who say they barely edit their work and, honestly, you can tell. Personally, I go through a lot of drafts (with Placebo, I went through the prologue at least fifty times tweaking it until I was happy with it).

Steven James - Opening Moves

For fans that haven’t read your work, how does the Jevin Banks series differ from your bestselling Bowers Files books, and do you prefer one over the other?

Ah, so you’re going to make me choose between my children, are you? Well, the Bowers books are more police procedurals, darker, more suspense than anything else. The Banks books are a little more light-hearted and conspiracy/science thrillers.

Speaking of Patrick Bowers, what’s next for the FBI Special Agent?

I’m currently working on Checkmate, the eighth and final book in the chess series. After that, we’ll see what happens. I’m nowhere near running out of ideas for Patrick’s storylines.

One of the characters from your Jevin Banks novels is Charlene Antioch. Did you choose her last name, Antioch, because it means the “cradle of Christianity”? Additionally, what inspires other character names in your Bowers and Banks books?

Huh, I had no idea about that meaning. I don’t choose names that have hidden messages in them because because I don’t want anything to get between my readers and my stories. Decoding what different names might mean would be a distraction for readers. Instead, I just choose names that sound cool to me. Now my secret is out. But I shouldn’t admit that, should I? Yes, there is a master plan at work. I just don’t know what it is yet.

Do you use any tools like Scrivener or Scapple while writing? What are your thoughts on software designed for authors?

It’s funny you should ask that. I do use both of them—mainly Scrivener. I don’t think I could write a novel without it. I’ve abandoned Word and Pages, they’re just too slow and the features don’t help me with a big, complex project like a novel. 

Singularity by Steven JamesKurt Vonnegut once shared the following piece of writing advice:

“First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”

Some writers, like Vonnegut, despise semicolons while others think they’re perfectly acceptable. What are your thoughts on this never-ending debate?

I avoid them, but you will find a few in my books if the pace, flow and context call for them. My editor seems to like them and it’s a back and forth thing of me deleting all the ones she adds. I have a friend who says before you write you need to perform a semicolonoscopy on your writing.

Your stories are filled with characters and multiple plots. Since you’re an organic writer that doesn’t plot everything out ahead of time, how do you keep track of what’s going on while writing a story?

I find myself reviewing the story from the beginning—not necessarily reading through it all, but at least trying to keep the context in my mind as I write. I’m a big believer in context determining content and it boggles my mind that people can write a book without that constant scrutiny of what is happening in the story and what that means for the direction of the narrative.

Your Jevin Banks novels feature a considerable amount of scientific information. Do you gather this information prior to writing? When it comes to this information, how do you know when you’ve struck a healthy balance of showing and telling?

I had to do a ton of research for this novel on transhumanism, the hypothetical singularity, robotics and cybernetics, consciousness and nanotechnology. As you mention, it’s always a balance. As I edited the book if I found myself getting bored, I knew that readers would as well. When I was working on Placebo I needed to research quantum mechanics. Talk about confusing. I finally realized I knew as much as I needed to about physics to write my book. I think I included maybe one page of explanation in the final draft. So, you can over-research stuff. Most of the time the best bet is just sitting your butt down and writing.

Steven James PlaceboIn May 2014 you have an instructive book for writers coming out called Story Trumps Structure. Can you give us a preview of what’s inside?

Too many writers straightjacket their novels by trying to follow a certain structure—three acts or plot outlines and so on. That stuff can so easily get in the way of telling a great story. I couldn’t find any books that talked through how to break the rules to tell unforgettable fiction, so I decided to write one.

What made you decide to pursue an M.A. in storytelling and would you recommend other aspiring writers do the same?

At the time, I was doing a lot of speaking and working as a family entertainer. It was helpful to learn stage presence, how to come up with stories and tell them orally. Looking back would I do it again? I’m not sure. I think getting an M.A. in any creative writing field can be a big waste of time and money. We learn best by writing. I’d tell aspiring writers to read the books on writing craft that are out there, check out Writer’s Digest magazine, and write. That’s where the education happens. That’s how you become a writer.

At ThrillerFest VIII you moderated numerous panels and gave a presentation on organic writing. What did you enjoy most about the conference?

I’d say the organic storytelling workshop. It’s just so different from so many of the other seminars on plotting out your novels and following a certain structure and template that it was fun to get the word out there on how to write organically. It rocked the boat a little bit and that’s always a good thing.

Steven James leading a workshop about organic writing at ThrillerFest VIII.

Steven James leading a workshop about organic writing at ThrillerFest VIII.

When you’re not writing, what genres and authors do you enjoy reading?

I tend to go against the common advice that’s out there in which published authors tell aspiring writers to write in the genre they read. I read some thrillers, but for the most part I avoid them so that my writing doesn’t subconsciously mirror the writing or plot lines of other authors. I read books on the craft of writing as well as poetry and philosophy. When I have time I might pick up a literary novel. I wish I had more time to read recreationally, but I’m pretty consumed in my own projects and don’t get out of my writing corner in my basement much—either mentally or physically.

Did you have any mentors that helped you cut your teeth in the writing industry? If so, what were the most important lessons they taught you?

I had an editor fifteen years ago who called me a writer. I’d had a few things published, but no books. When he said that to me I told him, “No I’m not.” But he looked me in the eye and said, “Yes. You are.” That encouraged me and kept me going. Advice? Well, he once told me not to fall in love with my first draft and I’ve found that to be some of the most advice for my fiction.

Author Interview: Douglas Preston

Douglas Preston (left) and Lincoln Child.

Douglas Preston (left) and Lincoln Child.

Douglas Preston is the best-selling author of 30 books, including the upcoming novel, White Fire, with his longtime collaborator Lincoln Child. I met Preston and Child at ThrillerFest VIII and learned a great deal from both of them. Below is my interview with Preston; I hope you enjoy it. Make sure to pick up a copy of White Fire, coming out November 12.

Many bestselling authors – Lee Child, James Patterson and Steve Berry, just to name a few – weren’t always writers; it was something they pursued later in life. In what field were you working prior to your first book being published, and what inspired you to take a chance at being an author?

My first job out of college was editing the throwaway newsletter published by the American Museum of Natural History. I found that editing other people’s work was not all that much fun. I wanted to write my own stuff. So I started writing for the newsletter, and then I was given a column in Natural History magazine to write about the Museum. Finally, I got a call from an editor at St. Martin’s Press named Lincoln Child, who suggested I write a book about the Museum. That was my first book, Dinosaurs in the Attic. Linc suggested we collaborate on a thriller set in the Museum, which became Relic, and the rest is history…

Many of us have fond memories of books that changed us in some way. Are there any books or authors that have greatly influenced you over the years?

Very much so. The books that profoundly affected me are, in no particular order, The Sirens of Titan, War and Peace, The Woman in White, Asimov’s Foundation series, Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, Charlotte’s Web, A Wrinkle in Time, the “Yes I will yes” chapter of Ulysses, The Andromeda Strain, and Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series of novels.

Relic

In your free time, what kinds of books do you like to read and who are your favorite authors?

These days, I like to read nonfiction, mostly in the areas of science and biography. Right now I’m reading The Mind of the Raven by Bernd Heinrich. I recently read a fascinating biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atomic bomb, called American Prometheus. One of the greatest nonfiction books ever written, in my view, is The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes. And on the same subject, another superb book on the Manhattan project is 109 East Palace by Jennet Conant.

In addition to novels, you’ve written non-fiction work as well. Do you prefer one over the other and how does the writing experience for each differ?

They’re so very different. When I’m writing a novel I curse the fact that there’s no structure and I have to pull it all out of thin air and wish I were writing nonfiction. When I’m writing nonfiction, I feel imprisoned by the facts and wish I could just make it all up or bring in a serial killer to spice things up.

Your first book with Lincoln Child, Relic, was critically acclaimed and a New York Times Bestseller. How was it writing the first novel with Lincoln, and how has your collaborative writing process evolved over the years?

A writing partnership is like a marriage, except with Linc the sex is nonexistent… It can be difficult, but Linc and I over the years have learned how to disagree. The important thing is we trust each other implicitly. If Linc says to me, “This thing you wrote stinks,” I may get upset, but I have to believe him. That’s why we have a partnership—to tell each other the hard truths.

White Fire

Your popular protagonist, Aloysius Xingu L. Pendergast, debuted in Relic and he’s going to be in your new novel, White Fire, coming out in November. What’s the premise of the new book, and what do you have in store for your readers?

White Fire opens with an historical event: a real (and fateful) dinner at the Langham hotel in London during which Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle met each other for the first and last time. What they discussed has been lost to history, but it seems Wilde made crucial suggestions to Doyle about his newly invented character of Sherlock Holmes, and Doyle for his part told Wilde all about police procedure, which inspired Wilde to write The Portrait of Dorian Gray. Then our novel moves to the present-day. Pendergast has to rescue Corrie Swanson from jail in an upscale Colorado ski resort, but just after he arrives, a serial arsonist strikes the town, burning down multimillion dollar mansions with the people still inside…

You’ve written trilogies and stand-alone thrillers. Do you find one more satisfying than the other? And when writing a trilogy, how do you keep track of all the details?

They both satisfy in different ways. With a trilogy we can go deep and spin out a vast, complex story with many subplots. It is a daunting task to keep track of everything. A solo novel is shorter and sweeter, and perhaps punchier in some ways. The middle novel in a trilogy is always difficult…

Meeting Douglas Preston at ThrillerFest VIII.

Meeting Douglas Preston at ThrillerFest VIII.

One of the hot topics at ThrillerFest this year was whether or not to outline a book. What are your thoughts on this issue? Do you plot out your novels in advance or do you simply have an idea and start writing?

Linc and I outline. We first create a general, narrative of the novel: how it opens, what happens, where it ends up. Then we outline maybe ten to fifteen chapters ahead, lengthening the outline as we write. I don’t know how writers can just start writing without knowing where they’re going, but some outstanding novelists do work that way. Tony Hillerman, one of my favorite mystery writers, never knew the ending of his books when he started, and yet he pulled off one great novel after another. I think every writer needs to find their own way of doing things. 

According to Goodreads, there’ve been nearly 125 books set in Maine – everything from John Irving’s The Cider House Rules to It by Stephen King. Being a resident of the Pine Tree State, why do you think this is the case?

Maine is dark and cold and beautiful and mysterious, with resolutely independent people. It has everything a writer might ask for in a vivid setting and compelling characters.

If you could offer aspiring writers once piece of advice, what would it be?

Write every day, seven days a week, if only for an hour at a time. And keep that hour sacred. Warn your friends and family to stay away. A writer must write, just as violinists must practice and Olympic athletes must train. That sounds obvious but you would be surprised at how many people want to be writers but don’t write very much.

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